The Champdoce Mystery
Part 3 out of 7
"M. Norbert did not make the dose strong enough. The Duke is as strong
as a horse; but it is all right, for should he live, he will be an
idiot, and so our end is as much gained as if he had died."
"But why does not Norbert write to me?" asked Diana seriously.
"Why, because he has some faint glimmerings of common sense. How do
you know that he may not have half a dozen spies about him? You must
Diana and the Counsellor waited for a week, but Norbert made no sign.
Diana suffered agonies, and the days seemed to pass with leaden feet.
Sunday came at last. The Marchioness de Laurebourg had attended early
Mass, and had given orders that her daughter should go to high Mass
under the escort of her maid. Diana was highly pleased with this
arrangement, for she hoped to have a chance of seeing Norbert, but she
was disappointed. The Mass had commenced when she entered, but the
spot occupied by the Duke and his son was vacant. She followed the
service in a purely mechanical manner, and at last noticed that the
priest had taken his place in the pulpit.
This was generally an exciting moment for the inhabitants of Bevron,
for it was immediately before the sermon that the banns of marriage
were published. The priest gazed blandly down upon the expectant
crowd, coughed slightly, used his handkerchief, and finally took from
his breviary a sheet of paper.
"I have," said he, "to publish the banns of marriage between----" here
he made a little pause, and all the congregation were on the
tenterhooks of expectation; "between," he continued, "Monsieur Louis
Norbert, Marquis de Champdoce, a minor, and only legitimate son of
Guillaume Caesar, Duke de Champdoce, and of his wife Isabella de
Barnaville, now deceased, but who both formerly resided in this
parish, and Desiree Anne Marie Palouzet, minor, and legitimate
daughter of Rene Augustus Palouzet, Count de Puymandour, and of Zoe
Staplet, his wife, but now deceased, also residents of this parish."
This was the thunderbolt launched from the pulpit, which seemed to
crush Diana into the earth, and her heart almost ceased to beat.
"Let any one," continued the priest, "who knows of any impediment to
this marriage, take warning that he or she must acquaint us with it,
under the penalty of excommunication. At the same time let him be
warned under the same penalty to bring forward nothing in malice or
without some foundation."
An impediment! What irony lay veiled beneath that word. Mademoiselle
de Laurebourg knew of more than one. A wild desire filled her heart to
start from her seat and cry out,--
"It is impossible for this marriage to take place, for that Norbert
was her affianced husband in the sight of Heaven, and that he was
bound to her by the strongest of all links, that of crime."
But by a gigantic effort she controlled herself, and remained
motionless, pallid as a spectre, but with a forced smile on her lips,
and with unparalleled audacity made a little sign to one of her female
friends, which plainly meant, "This is, indeed, something unexpected."
All her mind was concentrated to preserve a calm and unmoved aspect.
The singing of the choir seemed to die away, the strong odor of the
incense almost overpowered her, and she felt that unless the service
soon came to an end, she must fall insensible from her chair. At last
the priest turned again to the congregation and droned out the /Ita
missa est/, and all was over. Diana grasped the arm of her maid and
forced her away, without saying a word. As she reached home, a servant
ran up to her with a face upon which agitation was strongly painted.
"Ah, mademoiselle," gasped he, "such a frightful calamity. Your father
and mother are expecting you; it is really too terrible."
Diana hastened to obey the summons. Her father and mother were seated
near each other, evidently in deep distress. She went towards them,
and the Marquis, drawing her to him, pressed her against his heart.
"Poor child! My dear daughter!" murmured he, "you are all that is left
to us now."
Their son had died, and the sad news had been brought to the Chateau
while Diana was at Mass. By her brother's death she had succeeded to a
princely fortune, and would now be one of the richest heiresses for
many a mile round. Had this event happened but a week before, her
marriage to Norbert would have met with no opposition from his father,
and she would never have plunged into this abyss of crime. It was more
than the irony of fate; it was the manifest punishment of an angry
Divinity. She shed no tear for her brother's death. Her thoughts were
all firmly fixed on Norbert, and that fearful announcement made in the
house of God rang still in her ears. What could be the meaning of this
sudden arrangement, and why had the marriage been so suddenly decided
She felt that some mystery lay beneath it all, and vowed that she
would fathom it to its nethermost depths. What was it that had taken
place at Champdoce? Had the Duke, contrary to Daumon's
prognostications, recovered? Had he discovered his son' insidious
attack upon his life, and only pardoned it upon a blind compliance
being given to his will? She passed away the whole day in these vain
suppositions, and tried to think of every plan to stay the celebration
of this union, for she had not given up her hopes, nor did she yet
despair of ultimate success. Her new and unlooked-for fortune placed a
fresh weapon at her disposal, and she felt that the victory would yet
be hers if she could but see Norbert again, were it but for a single
instant. Was she not certain of the absolute power that she exercised
over him, for had she not by a few words induced him to enter upon the
terrible path of crime? She must see him, and that without a moment's
delay, for the danger was imminent. A day now would be worth a year
hereafter. She determined that, upon that very night, she would visit
Champdoce. A little after midnight, when the inhabitants of the
Chateau were wrapped in slumber, she crept on tiptoe down the grand
staircase, and made her exit by a side door. She had arranged her plan
as to how she would find Norbert, for he had often described the
interior arrangements of the Chateau to her. She knew that his room
was on the ground floor, with two windows looking on to the courtyard.
When, however, she reached the old Chateau, she hesitated. Suppose
that she should go to the wrong window. But she had gone too far to
recede, and determined that if any one else than Norbert should open
the window, she would turn and fly. She tapped at the window softly,
and then more loudly. She had made no mistake. Norbert threw open the
window, with the words,--
"Who is there?"
"It is I, Norbert; I, Diana."
"What do you want?" asked Norbert in an agitated tone of voice. What
do you want to do here?"
She looked at him anxiously and hardly recognized his face, so great
was the change that had come over it. It absolutely terrified her.
"Are you going to marry Mademoiselle de Puymandour?" asked she.
"Yes I am."
"And yet you pretended to love me?"
"Yes, I loved you ardently, devotedly, with a love that drove me to
crime; but you had no love; you cared but for rank and fortune."
Diana raised her hands to heaven in an agony of despair.
"Should I be here at this hour if what you say is true?" asked she
wildly. "My brother is dead, and I am as wealthy as you are, Norbert,
and yet I am here. You accuse me of being mercenary, and for what
reason? Was it because I refused to fly with you from my father's
house? Oh, Norbert, it was but the happiness of our future life that I
strove to protect. It was----"
Her speech failed her, and her eyes dilated with horror, for the door
behind Norbert opened, and the Duke de Champdoce entered the room,
uttering a string of meaningless words, and laughing with that
mirthless laugh which is so sure a sign of idiotcy.
"Can you understand now," exclaimed Norbert, pointing to his father,
"why the remembrance of my love for you has become a hateful
reminiscence? Do you dare to talk of happiness to me, when this
spectre of a meditated crime will ever rise between us?" and with a
meaning gesture he pointed to the open gate of the courtyard.
She turned; but before passing away, she cast a glance upon him full
of the deepest fury and jealousy. She could not forgive Norbert for
his share in the crime that she herself prompted,--for the crime which
had blighted all her hopes of happiness. Her farewell was a menace.
"Norbert," she said, as she glided through the gate like a spectre of
the night, "I will have revenge, and that right soon."
MARRIAGE BELLS; FUNERAL KNELLS.
Three days of hard work had completed all the arrangements necessary
for the marriage of Norbert and Mademoiselle de Puymandour. He had
been presented to the lady, and neither had received a favorable
impression of the other. At the very first glance each one felt that
inevitable repugnance which the lapse of years can never efface. While
dreading the anger of her obdurate father, Marie had at one time
thought of confiding the secret of her attachment to George de
Croisenois to Norbert, for she had the idea that if she told him that
her heart was another's, he might withdraw his pretensions to her
hand; but several times, when the opportunity occurred, fear
restrained her tongue, and she let the propitious moment pass away.
Had she done so, Norbert would at once have eagerly grasped at a
pretext for absolving himself from a promise which he had made
mentally of obeying in all things a father who now, alas! had no means
of enforcing his commands.
Each day he paid his visit to Puymandour as an accepted suitor,
bearing a large bouquet with him, which he regularly presented to his
betrothed upon his entrance into the drawing-room, which she accepted
with a painful flush rising to her cheek. The pair conversed upon
indifferent topics, while an aged female connection sat in the room to
play propriety. For many hours they would remain thus, the girl
bending over her fancy work, and he vainly striving to find topics of
conversation, and, consequently, saying hardly anything, in spite of
Marie's feeble efforts to assist in the conversation. It was a slight
relief when M. de Puymandour proposed a walk; but this was a rare
occurrence, for that gentleman usually declared that he never had a
moment's leisure. Never had he seemed so gay and busy since the
approaching marriage of his daughter had been the theme of every
tongue. He took all the preparations for the ceremony into his own
hands, for he had determined that everything should be conducted on a
scale of unparalleled magnificence. The Chateau was refurnished, and
all the carriages repainted and varnished, while the Champdoce and the
Puymandour arms were quartered together on their panels. This coat of
arms was to be seen everywhere--over the doors, on the walls, and
engraved on the silver, and it was believed that M. de Puymandour
would have made no objection to their being branded on his breast.
In the midst of all this turmoil and bustle Norbert and Marie grew
sadder and sadder as each day passed on. One day M. de Puymandour
heard so astounding a piece of intelligence that he hurried into the
drawing-room, where he knew that he should find the lovers (as he
styled them) together.
"Well, my children," exclaimed he, "you have set such an excellent
example, that everybody seems disposed to copy you, and the mayor and
the priest will be kept to their work rather tightly this year."
His daughter tried to put on an appearance of interest at this speech.
"Yes," continued M. de Puymandour, "I have just heard of a marriage
that will come off almost directly after yours has been celebrated,
and will make a stir, I can assure you."
"And whose is that, pray?"
"You are acquainted, I presume," returned the father, addressing
himself to Norbert, "with the son of the Count de Mussidan?"
"What, the Viscount Octave?"
"He lives in Paris, does he not?"
"Yes, generally; but he has been staying at Mussidan, and in the short
space of a week has managed to lose his heart here; and to whom do you
think? Come, give a guess."
"We cannot think who it can be, my dear father," said Marie, "and we
are devoured with curiosity."
"It is reported that the Viscount de Mussidan has proposed for the
hand of Mademoiselle de Laurebourg."
"Why," remarked Marie, "it is only three weeks since her brother
Norbert flushed scarlet, and then turned a livid white; so great was
his agitation at hearing this news, that he nearly dropped the album
which he held in his hand.
"I like the Viscount," continued M. de Puymandour, "while Mademoiselle
Diana is a charming girl. She is very handsome, and, I believe, has
many talents; and she is a good model for you to copy, Marie, as you
are so soon to become a duchess."
When he got upon his favorite hobby, it was very difficult to check M.
de Puymandour. His daughter, therefore, waited until he had concluded,
and then left the room, under the pretext of giving an order to the
servants. The Count hardly noticed her absence, as he had still
Norbert at his mercy.
"Reverting again to Mademoiselle Diana," said he: "she looks charming
in black, for women should look upon a death in the family as a most
fortunate occurrence; but I ought not to be praising her to you, who
are so well acquainted with her."
"I?" exclaimed Norbert.
"Yes, you. I do not suppose that you intend to deny that you have had
a little flirtation with her?"
"I do not understand you."
"Well, /I/ do then, my boy; I heard all about your making love to her.
Why, you are really blushing! What is up now?"
"I can assure you----"
De Puymandour burst into a loud laugh.
"I have heard a good deal of your little country walks, and all the
pretty things that you used to say to each other."
In vain did Norbert deny the whole thing, for his intended father-in-
law would not believe him; and at last he got so annoyed that he
refused to remain and dine with the Count, alleging anxiety for his
father as an excuse. He returned home as soon as he possibly could,
much agitated by what he had heard; and as he was walking rapidly on,
he heard his name called by some one who was running after him:
Norbert turned round, and found himself face to face with Montlouis.
"I have been here a week," said the young man. "I am here with my
patron, for I have one now. I am now with the Viscount de Mussidan, as
his private secretary. M. Octave is not the most agreeable man in the
world to get on with, as he gets into the most violent passions on
very trivial occasions; but he has a good heart, after all, and I am
very pleased with the position I have gained."
"I am very glad to hear it, Montlouis, very much pleased indeed."
"And you, Marquis, I hear, are to marry Mademoiselle de Puymandour; I
could scarcely credit the news."
"And why, pray?"
"Because I remembered when we used to wait outside a certain garden
wall, until we saw a certain door open discreetly."
"But you must efface all this from your memory, Montlouis."
"Do not be alarmed; save to you, my lips would never utter a word of
this. No one else would ever make me speak."
"Stop!" said Norbert, with an angry gesture. "Do you venture to say--"
"To say what?"
"I wish you to understand that Mademoiselle Diana is as free from
blame to-day as she was when first I met her. She has been indiscreet,
but nothing more, I swear it before heaven!"
"I believe you perfectly."
In reality Montlouis did not believe one word of Norbert's assertion,
and the young Marquis could read this in his companion's face.
"The more so," continued the secretary, "as the young lady is about to
be married to my friend and patron."
"But where," asked Norbert, "did the Viscount meet with Mademoiselle
"In Paris; the Viscount and her brother were very intimate, and nursed
him during his last illness, and as soon as the scheming parents heard
of the Viscount being in the neighborhood they asked him to call on
them. Of course he did so, and saw Mademoiselle Diana, and returned
home in a perfect frenzy of love."
Norbert seemed so incensed at this that Montlouis broke off his
recital, feeling confident that the Marquis still loved Diana, and was
consumed with the flame of jealousy.
"But, of course," he added carelessly, "nothing is yet settled."
Norbert, however, was too agitated to listen to the idle gossip of
Montlouis any longer, so he pressed his hand and left him rather
abruptly, walking away at the top of his speed, leaving his friend
silent with astonishment. It seemed to Norbert as if he was imprisoned
in one of those iron dungeons he had read of, which slowly contracted
day by day, and at last crushed their victims to atoms. He saw Diana
married to the Viscount de Mussidan, and compelled to meet daily the
man who knew all about her illicit meetings with her former lover, and
who had more than once, when Norbert was unable to leave Champdoce,
been intrusted with a letter or a message for her. And how would
Montlouis behave under the circumstances? Would he possess the
necessary tact and coolness to carry him through so difficult a
position? What would be the end of this cruel concatenation of
circumstances? Would Diana be able to endure the compromising witness
of her youthful error? She would eagerly seek out some pretext for his
dismissal; he could easily detect this, and in his anger at the loss
of a position which he had long desired, would turn on her and repeat
the whole story. Should Montlouis let loose his tongue, the Viscount,
indignant at the imposition that had been practised upon him, would
separate from his wife. What would be Diana's conduct when she found
herself left thus alone, and despised by the society of which she had
hoped to be a queen? Would she not, in her turn, seek to revenge
herself on Norbert? He had just asked himself whether at this juncture
death would not be a blessing to him, when he caught sight of
Francoise, the daughter of the Widow Rouleau, close by him. For two
hours she had been awaiting his coming, concealed behind a hedge.
"I have something to give you, my lord Marquis," said she.
He took the letter that she held out to him, and, opening it, he
"You said that I did not love you--perhaps this was but a test to
prove my love. I am ready to fly with you to-night. I shall lose
all, but it will be for your sake. Reflect, Norbert; there is yet
time, but to-morrow it will be too late."
These were the words that Mademoiselle de Laurebourg had had the
courage to pen, which to the former lover were full of the most
thrilling eloquence. The usually bold, firm writing of Diana was, in
the letter before him, confused and almost illegible, showing the
writer's frame of mind. There were blurs and blisters upon the paper
as though tears had fallen upon it, perhaps because the writing had
been made purposely irregular and drops of water are an excellent
substitute for tears.
"Does she really love me?" murmured he.
He hesitated; yes, he absolutely hesitated, impressed by the idea that
for him she was ready to sacrifice position and honor, that he had but
to raise his finger and she was his, and that in the space of a couple
of hours she might be the companion of his flight to some far-distant
land. His pulse throbbed madly, and he could scarcely draw his breath,
when some fifty paces down the road he caught sight of the figure of a
man; it was his father. This was the second time that the Duke by his
mere presence had spread the web of Diana's temptations and
"Never!" exclaimed Norbert, with such fire and energy that the girl
fell back a pace. "Never! no, never!" and crushing up the letter, he
dashed it upon the ground, from whence Francoise picked it up as he
ran forward to meet his father. The Duke had recovered from his attack
as far as the mere fact of his life not having been sacrificed; he
could walk, sleep, eat and drink as he had formerly done. He could
look at the laborers in the fields or the horses in the stables, but
five minutes afterwards he had no recollection of what he heard or
saw. The sudden loss of his father's aid would have caused Norbert
much embarrassment had it not been for the shrewdness and sagacity of
M. de Puymandour, who had assisted him greatly. But all these
arrangements which had to be made had necessarily delayed the wedding.
But it came at last; M. de Puymandour took absolute possession of him,
and after the unhappy young man had passed a sleepless night, he was
allowed no time for reflection. At eleven o'clock he entered the
carriage, and was driven fast to the Mayor's office, and from thence
to the chapel, and by twelve o'clock all was finished and he fettered
for life. A little before dinner the Viscount de Mussidan came to
offer his congratulations, and gained them at the same time for
himself by announcing his speedy union with Mademoiselle Diana de
Five days later the newly married pair took possession of their
mansion at Champdoce. Hampered with a wife whom he had never affected
to love, and whose tearful face was a constant reproach to him, and
with a father who was an utter imbecile, the thoughts of suicide more
than once crossed Norbert's brain. One day a servant informed Norbert
that his father refused to get up. A doctor was sent for, and he
declared that the Duke was in a highly critical condition. A violent
reaction had taken place, and all day the invalid was in a state of
intense excitement. The power of speech, which he had almost entirely
lost, seemed to have returned to him in a miraculous manner; at
length, however, he became delirious, and Norbert dismissed the
servants who had been watching by his father's bed, lest in the
incoherent ravings of the invalid, the words "Parricide" or "Poison"
should break forth. At eleven o'clock he grew calmer, and slept a
little, when all at once he started up in bed, exclaiming: "Come here,
Norbert," and Jean, who had remained by his old master's side, ran up
to the bed and was much startled at the sight. The Duke had entirely
recovered his former appearance. His eyes flashed, and his lips
trembled, as they always did when he was greatly excited.
"Pardon, father; pardon," cried Norbert, falling upon his knees.
The Duke softly stretched out his hand. "I was mad with family pride,"
said he; "and God punished me. My son, I forgive you."
Norbert's sobs broke the stillness of the chamber.
"My son, I renounce my ideas," continued the Duke. "I do not desire
you to wed Mademoiselle de Puymandour if you feel that you cannot love
"Father," answered Norbert, "I have obeyed your wishes, and she is now
A gleam of terrible anguish passed over the Duke's countenance; he
raised his hands as though to shield his eyes from some grizzly
spectre, and in tones of heartrending agony exclaimed: "Too late! Too
He fell back in terrible convulsions, and in a moment was dead. If, as
has been often asserted, the veil of the hereafter is torn asunder,
then the Duke de Champdoce had a glimpse into a terrible future.
"RASH WORD, RASH DEED."
After her repulse by Norbert, Diana, with the cold chill of death in
her heart, made her way back to the Chateau of the De Laurebourgs,
over the same road which but a short time before she had traveled full
of expectation and hope. The sudden appearance of the Duke de
Champdoce had filled her with alarm, but her imagination was not of
that kind upon which unpleasant impressions remain for any long
period; for after she had regained her room, and thrown aside her out-
door attire, and removed all signs of mud-stains, she once more became
herself, and even laughed a little rippling laugh at all her own past
alarms. Overwhelmed with the shame of her repulse, she had threatened
Norbert; but as she reasoned calmly, she felt that it was not he for
whom she felt the most violent animosity. All her hatred was reserved
for that woman who had come between her and her lover--for Marie de
Puymandour. Some hidden feeling warned her that she must look into
Marie's past life for some reason for the rupture of her engagement
with Norbert, though the banns had already been published. This was
the frame of mind in which Diana was when the Viscount de Mussidan was
introduced to her, the friend of the brother whose untimely death had
left her such a wealthy heiress. He was tall and well made, with
handsomely chiseled features; and, endowed with physical strength and
health, Octave de Mussidan had the additional advantages of noble
descent and princely fortune. Two women, both renowned for their wit
and beauty, his aunt and his mother, had been intrusted with the
education which would but enable him to shine in society.
Dispatched to Paris, with an ample allowance, at the age of twenty, he
found himself, thanks to his birth and connections, in the very center
of the world of fashion. At the sight of Mademoiselle de Laurebourg
his heart was touched for the first time. Diana had never been more
charmingly fascinating than she was at this period. Octave de Mussidan
did not suit her fancy; there was too great a difference between him
and Norbert, and nothing would ever efface from her memory the
recollection of the young Marquis as he had appeared before her on the
first day of their meeting in the Forest of Bevron, clad in his rustic
garb, with the game he had shot dangling from his hand. She delighted
to feast her recollection, and thought fondly of his shyness and
diffidence when he hardly ventured to raise his eyes to hers. Octave,
however, fell a victim at the first glance he caught of Diana, and
permitted himself to be swept away by the tide of his private
emotions, which upon every visit that he paid to Laurebourg became
more powerful and resistless. Like a true knight, who wishes that he
himself should gain the love of his lady fair, Octave addressed
himself directly to Diana, and after many attempts succeeded in
finding himself alone with her, and then he asked her if she could
permit him to crave of her father, the Marquis de Laurebourg, the
honor of her hand. This appeal surprised her, for she had been so much
absorbed in her own troubles that she had not even suspected his love
for her. She was not even frightened at his declaration, as is the
patient when the surgeon informs him that he must use the knife. She
glanced at De Mussidan strangely as he put this question to her, and
after a moment's hesitation, replied that she would give him a reply
the next day. After thinking the matter over, she wrote and dispatched
the letter which Francoise had carried to Norbert. The prisoner in the
dock as he anxiously awaits the sentence of his judge, can alone
appreciate Diana's state of agonized suspense as she stood at the end
of the park at Laurebourg awaiting the return of the girl. Her anxiety
of mind lasted nearly three hours, when Francoise hurried up
"What did the Marquis say?" asked Diana.
"He said nothing; that is, he cried out very angrily, 'Never! no,
In order to prevent any suspicions arising in the girl's mind,
Mademoiselle de Laurebourg contrived to force a laugh, exclaiming:
"Ah! indeed, that is just what I expected."
Francoise seemed as if she had something to say on the tip of her
tongue, but Diana hurriedly dismissed her, pressing a coin into her
hand. All anxiety was now at an end; for her there was no longer any
suspense or anguish; all her struggles were now futile, and she felt
grateful to Octave for having given her his love. "Once married,"
thought she, "I shall be free, and shall be able to follow the Duke
and Duchess to Paris."
Upon her return to the Chateau, she found Octave awaiting her. His
eyes put the question that his lips did not dare to utter; and,
placing her hand in his with a gentle inclination of her head, she
assented to his prayer.
This act on her part would, she believed, free her from the past; but
she was in error. Upon hearing that his dastardly attempt at murder
had failed, the Counsellor was for the time utterly overwhelmed with
terror, but the news that he had gained from M. de Puymandour calmed
his mind in a great measure. He was not, however, completely reassured
until he heard for certain that the Duke had become a helpless maniac,
and that the doctor, having given up all hopes of his patient's
recovery, had discontinued his visits to the Chateau. As soon as he
had heard that Norbert's marriage had been so soon followed by his
father's death, he imagined that every cloud had disappeared from the
sky. All danger now seemed at an end, and he recalled with glee that
he had in his strong box the promissory notes, signed by Norbert, to
the amount of twenty thousand francs, which he could demand at any
moment, now that Norbert was the reigning lord of Champdoce. The first
step he took was to hang about the neighborhood of Laurebourg, for he
thought that some lucky chance would surely favor him with an
opportunity for a little conversation with Mademoiselle Diana. For
several days in succession he was unsuccessful, but at last he was
delighted at seeing her alone, walking in the direction of Bevron.
Without her suspecting it, he followed her until the road passed
through a small plantation, when he came up and addressed her.
"What do you want with me?" asked she angrily.
He made no direct reply; but after apologizing for his boldness, he
began to offer his congratulations upon her approaching marriage,
which was now the talk of the whole neighborhood, and which pleased
him much, as M. de Mussidan was in every way superior to--
"Is that all you have to say to me?" asked Diana, interrupting his
string of words.
As she turned from him, he had the audacity to lay his hand upon the
edge of her jacket.
"I have more to say," said he, "if you will honor me with your
attention. Something about--you can guess what."
"About whom or what?" asked she, making no effort to hide her supreme
He smiled, glanced around to see that no one was within hearing, and
then said in a low voice,--
"It is about the bottle of poison."
She recoiled, as though some venomous reptile had started up in front
"What do you mean?" cried she. "How dare you speak to me thus?"
All his servile manner had now returned to him, and he uttered a
string of complaints in a whining tone of voice. She had played him a
most unfair trick, and had stolen a certain little glass bottle from
his office; and if anything had leaked out, his head would have paid
the penalty of a crime in which he had no hand. He was quite ill,
owing to the suspense and anxiety he had endured; sleep would not come
to his bed, and the pangs of remorse tortured him continually.
"Enough," cried Diana, stamping her foot angrily on the ground.
"Enough, I say."
"Well, mademoiselle, I can no longer remain here. I am far too
nervous, and I wish to go to some foreign country."
"Come, let me hear the real meaning of this long preface."
Thus adjured, Daumon spoke. He only wished for some little memento to
cheer his days and nights of exile, some little recognition of his
services; in fact, such a sum as would bring him in an income of three
"I understand you," replied Diana. "You wish to be paid for what you
call your kindness."
"And you put a value of sixty thousand francs upon it; that is rather
a high price, is it not?"
"Alas! it is not half what this unhappy business has cost me."
"Nonsense; your demand is preposterous."
"Demand!" returned he; "I make no demand. I come to you respectfully
and with a little charity. If I were to demand, I should come to you
in quite a different manner. I should say, 'Pay me such and such a
sum, or I tell everything.' What have I to lose if the whole story
comes to light? A mere nothing. I am a poor man, and am growing old.
You and M. Norbert are the ones that have something to fear. You are
noble, rich, and young, and a happy future lies before you."
Diana paused and thought for an instant.
"You are speaking," answered she at last, "in a most foolish manner.
When charges are made against people, proofs must be forthcoming."
"Quite right, mademoiselle; but can you say that these proofs are not
in my hands? Should you, however, desire to buy them, you are at
liberty to do so. I give you the first option, and yet you grumble."
As he spoke, he drew a battered leather pocket-book from his breast,
and took from it a paper, which, after having been crumpled, had been
carefully smoothed out again. Diana glanced at it, and then uttered a
stifled cry of rage and fear, for she at once recognized her last
letter to Norbert.
"That wretch, Francoise, has betrayed me," exclaimed she, "and I saved
her mother from a death by hunger and cold."
The Counsellor held out the letter to her. She thought that he had no
suspicion of her, and made an attempt to snatch it from him; but he
was on his guard, and drew back with a sarcastic smile on his face.
"No, mademoiselle," said he; "this is not the little bottle of poison;
however, I will give it to you, together with another one, when I have
obtained what I ask. Nothing for nothing, however; and if I must go to
the scaffold, I will do so in good company."
Mademoiselle de Laurebourg was in utter despair.
"But I have no money," said she. "Where is a girl to find such a sum?"
"M. Norbert can find it."
"Go to him, then."
Daumon made a negative sign with his head.
"I am not quite such a fool," answered he; "I know M. Norbert too
well. He is the very image of his father. But you can manage him,
mademoiselle; besides, you have much interest in having the matter
"There is no use in beating about the bush. I come to you humbly
enough, and you treat me like so much dirt. I will not submit to this,
as you will find to your cost. /I/ never poisoned any one; but enough
of this kind of thing. To-day is Tuesday; if on Friday, by six
o'clock, I do not have what I have asked for, your father and the
Count Octave will have a letter from me, and perhaps your fine
marriage may come to nothing after all."
This insolence absolutely struck Diana dumb, and Daumon had
disappeared round a turning of the road before she could find words to
crush him for his vile attempt at extortion. She felt that he was
capable of keeping his word, even if by so doing he seriously injured
himself without gaining any advantage.
A nature like Diana's always looks danger boldly in the face. She had,
however, but little choice how she would act--for to apply to Norbert
was the only resource left to her--for she knew that he would do all
in his power to ward off the danger which threatened both of them so
nearly. The idea, however, of applying to him for aid was repugnant to
her pride. To what depths of meanness and infamy had she descended!
and to what avail had been all her aspirations of ambition and
She was at the mercy of a wretch--of Daumon, in fact. She was forced
to go as a suppliant to a man whom she had loved so well that she now
hated him with a deadly hatred. But she did not hesitate for a moment.
She went straight to the cottage of Widow Rouleau, and despatched
Francoise in quest of Norbert.
She ordered the girl to tell him that he must without fail be at the
wicket gate in the park wall at Laurebourg on the coming night, where
she would meet him, and that the matter was one of life and death.
As Diana gave these orders to Francoise, the woman's nervous air and
flushed features plainly showed that she was a mere creature of
Daumon's; but Mademoiselle de Laurebourg felt it would be unwise to
take any notice of her discovery, but to abstain from employing her in
confidential communications for the future.
As the hour of the meeting drew near a host of doubts assailed her.
Would Norbert come to the meeting? Had Francoise contrived to see him?
Might he not be absent from home? It was now growing dark, and the
servants brought candles into the dining-room, and Diana, contriving
to slip away, gained the appointed spot. Norbert was waiting, and when
he caught sight of her, rushed forward, but stopped as though
restrained by a sudden thought, and remained still, as if rooted to
"You sent for me, mademoiselle?" said he.
After a pause, in which she succeeded in mastering her emotion, Diana
began with the utmost volubility to explain the extortion that Daumon
was endeavoring to practise upon her, magnifying, though there was but
little need to do so, all the threats and menaces that he had made use
of. She had imagined that this last piece of roguery on the part of
Daumon would drive Norbert into a furious passion, but to her surprise
it had no such effect. He had suffered so much and so deeply, that his
heart was almost dead against any further emotion.
"Do not let this trouble you," answered he apathetically; "I will see
Daumon and settle with him."
"Can you leave me thus, at our last meeting, without even a word?"
"What have I to say? My father forgave me on his death-bed, and I
"Farewell, Norbert; we shall see no more of each other. I am going to
marry, as you have doubtless been informed. Can I oppose my parent's
will? Besides, what does it signify? Farewell; remember no one wishes
more sincerely for your future happiness than I do."
"Happy!" exclaimed Norbert. "How can I ever be happy again? If you
know the secret, for pity's sake break it to me. Tell me how to forget
and how to annihilate thought. Do you not know that I had planned a
life of perfect happiness with you by my side? I had visions; and now
plans and visions are alike hateful to me. And as they ever and anon
recur to my memory, they will fill me with terror and despair."
As Diana heard these words of agony, a wild gleam of triumph shot from
her eyes, but it faded away quickly, and left her cold and emotionless
as a marble statue; and when she reappeared in the drawing-room, after
taking leave of Norbert, her face wore so satisfied an expression,
that the Viscount complimented her upon her apparent happiness.
She made some jesting retort, but there was a shade of earnestness
mixed with her playfulness, for to her future husband she only wished
to show the amiable side of her character; but all the time she was
thinking. Will Norbert see Daumon in time?
The Duke kept his word, and the next day the faithful Jean discreetly
handed her a packet. She opened it and found that besides the two
letters of which the Counsellor had spoken, it contained all her
correspondence with Norbert--more than a hundred letters in all, some
of great length, and all of them compromising to a certain extent. Her
first thought was to destroy them, but on reflection she decided not
to do so, and hid the packet in the same place as she had concealed
the letters written by Norbert to her.
Norbert had given Daumon sixty thousand francs, and in addition owed
him twenty thousand on his promissory notes. This sum, in addition to
what he had already saved, would form such a snug little fortune that
it would enable the Counsellor to quit Bevron, and take up his abode
in Paris, where his peculiar talents would have more scope for
development. And eight days later the village was thrown into a state
of intense excitement by the fact becoming known that Daumon had shut
up his house and departed for Paris, taking Francoise, the Widow
Rouleau's daughter, with him. The Widow Rouleau was furious, and
openly accused Mademoiselle de Laurebourg of having aided in the
committal of the act which had deprived her of her daughter's services
in her declining years; and the old woman who had acted as
housekeeper, who on Daumon's departure had thrown open the place, did
not hesitate to assert that all her late master's legal lore had been
acquired in prison, where he had undergone a sentence of ten years'
In spite of all this, however, Mademoiselle de Laurebourg was secretly
delighted at the departure of Daumon and Francoise; for she
experienced an intense feeling of relief at knowing that she no longer
was in any risk of meeting her accomplice in her daily walks. Norbert,
too, was going to Paris with his wife; and M. de Puymandour was going
about saying that his daughter, the Duchess of Champdoce, would not
return to this part of the country for some time to come.
Diana drew a long breath of relief, for it seemed to her as if all the
threatening clouds, which had darkened the horizon, were fast breaking
up and drifting away. Her future seemed clear, and she could continue
the preparations for her marriage, which was to be celebrated in a
fortnight's time; and the friend of Octave who had been asked to act
as his best man had answered in the affirmative.
Diana had taken accurate measurement of the love that Octave lavished
upon her, and did her utmost to increase it. She had another cruel
idea, and that was that the bewitching manner which she had assumed
towards her betrothed was excellent practice, and by it she might
judge of her future success in society when she resided in Paris.
Octave was utterly conquered, as any other man would have been under
Upon the day of her wedding she was dazzling in her beauty, and her
face was radiant with happiness; but it was a mere mask, which she had
put on to conceal her real feelings. She knew that many curious eyes
were fixed on her as she left the chapel; and the crowd formed a line
for her to pass through. She saw many a glance of dislike cast upon
her; but a more severe blow awaited her, for on her arrival at the
Chateau de Mussidan, to which she was driven directly after the
ceremony, the first person she met was Montlouis, who came forward to
welcome her. Bold and self-possessed as she was, the slight of this
man startled her, and a bright flush passed across her face.
Fortunately Montlouis had had time to prepare himself for this
meeting, and his face showed no token of recognition. But though his
salutation was of the most respectful description, Madame de Mussidan
thought she saw in his eyes that ironical expression of contempt which
she had more than once seen in Daumon's face.
"That man must not, shall not, stay here," she murmured to herself.
It was easy enough for her to ask her husband to dismiss Montlouis
from his employ, but it was a dangerous step to take; and her easiest
course was to defer the dismissal of the secretary until some really
good pretext offered itself. Nor was this pretext long in presenting
itself; for Octave was by no means satisfied with the young man's
conduct. Montlouis who had been full of zeal while in Paris, had
renewed his /liaison/, on his return to Mussidan, with the girl with
whom he had been formerly entangled at Poitiers. This, of course,
could not be permitted to go on, and an explosion was clearly to be
expected; but what Diana dreaded most was the accidental development
of some unseen chance.
After she had been married some two weeks, when Octave proposed in the
afternoon that they should go for a walk, she agreed. Her preparations
were soon completed, and they started off, blithe and lively as
children on a holiday ramble. As they loitered in a wooded path, they
heard a dog barking in the cover. It was Bruno, who rushed out, and,
standing on his hind legs, endeavored to lick Diana's face.
"Help, help, Octave!" she exclaimed, and her husband, springing to her
side, drove away the animal.
"Were you very much alarmed, dearest?" asked he.
"Yes," answered she faintly; "I was almost frightened to death."
"I do not think that he would do you any harm," remarked Octave.
"No matter; make him go away"; and as she spoke she struck at him with
her parasol. But the dog never for a moment supposed that Diana was in
earnest, and, supposing that she intended to play with him, as she had
often done before, began to gambol round her, barking joyously the
"But this dog evidently knows you, Diana," observed the Viscount.
"Know me? Impossible!" and as she spoke Bruno ran up and licked her
hand. "If he does, his memory is better than mine; at any rate, I am
half afraid of him. Come, Octave, let us go."
They turned away, and Octave would have forgotten all about the
occurrence had not Bruno, delighted at having found an old
acquaintance, persisted in following them.
"This is strange," exclaimed the Viscount, "very strange indeed. Look
here, my man," said he, addressing a peasant, who was engaged in
clipping a hedge by the roadside, "do you know whose dog this is?"
"Yes, my lord, it belongs to the young Duke of Champdoce."
"Of course," answered Diana, "I have often seen the dog at the Widow
Rouleau's, and have occasionally given it a piece of bread. He was
always with Francoise, who ran off with that man Daumon. Oh, yes, I
know him now; here, Bruno, here!"
The dog rushed to her, and, stooping down, she caressed him, thus
hoping to conceal her tell-tale face.
Octave drew his wife's arm within his without another word. A strange
feeling of doubt had arisen in his mind. Diana, too, was much
disturbed, and abused herself mentally for having been so weak and
cowardly. Why had she not at once confessed that she knew the dog? Had
she said at once, "Why, that is Bruno, the Duke of Champdoce's dog,"
her husband would have thought no more about the matter; but her own
folly had made much of a merely trivial incident.
Ever since that fatal walk the Viscount's manner appeared to have
changed, and more than once Diana fancied that she caught a look of
suspicion in his eyes. How could she best manage to make him forget
this unlucky event? She saw that for the rest of her life she must
affect a terror of dogs; and, for the future, whenever she saw one,
she uttered a little cry of alarm, and insisted upon all Octave's
being chained up. But for all this she lived in a perfect atmosphere
of suspicion and anxiety, while the very ground upon which she walked
seemed to have been mined beneath her feet. Her sole wish now was to
fly from Mussidan, and leave Bevron and its environs, she cared not
for what spot. It has been first arranged that immediately after the
marriage they should make a short tour; but in spite of this, they
still lingered at Mussidan; and all that Diana could do was to keep
this previous determination before her husband, without making any
The blow came at last, and was more unexpected and terrible than she
had anticipated. On the afternoon of the 26th of October, as Diana was
gazing from her window, an excited crowd rushed into the courtyard of
the Chateau, followed by four men bearing a litter covered with a
sheet, under which could be distinguished the rigid limbs of a dead
body, while a cruel crimson stain upon one side of the white covering
too plainly showed that some one had met with a violent death.
The hideous sight froze Diana with terror, and it was impossible for
her to leave the window or quit the object on the litter, which seemed
to have a terrible fascination for her. That very morning her husband,
accompanied by his friend the Baron de Clinchain, Montlouis, and a
servant named Ludovic, had gone out for a day's shooting. It was
evident that something had happened to one of the party; which of them
could it be? The doubt was not of very long duration; for at that
moment her husband entered the courtyard, supported by M. de Clinchain
and Ludovic. His face was deadly pale, and he seemed scarcely able to
drag one leg after the other. The dead man therefore must be
Montlouis. She need no longer plot and scheme for the dismissal of the
secretary, for his tongue had been silenced for ever.
A ray of comfort dawned in Diana's heart at this idea, and gave her
the strength to descend the staircase. Halfway down she met M. de
Clinchain, who was ascending. He seized her by the arm, and said
"Go back, madame, go back!"
"But tell me what has happened."
"A terrible calamity. Go back to your room, I beg of you. Your husband
will be here presently"; and, as Octave appeared, he absolutely pushed
her into her own room.
Octave followed, and, extending his arms, pressed his wife closely to
his breast, bursting as he did so into a passion of sobs.
"Ah!" cried M. de Clinchain joyously, "he is saved. See, he weeps; I
had feared for his reason."
After many questions and incoherent answers, Madame de Mussidan at
last arrived at the fact that her husband had shot Montlouis by
accident. Diana believed this story, but it was far from the truth.
Montlouis had met his death at her hands quite as much as the Duke de
Champdoce had done. He had died because he was the possessor of a
This was what had really occurred. After lunch, Octave, who had drunk
rather freely, began to rally Montlouis regarding his mysterious
movements, and to assert that some woman must be at the bottom of
them. At first Montlouis joined in the laugh; but at length M. de
Mussidan became too personal in remarks regarding the woman his
secretary loved, and Montlouis responded angrily. This influenced his
master's temper, and he went on to say that he could no longer permit
such doings, and he reproached his secretary for risking his present
and future for a woman who was worthy neither of love nor respect, and
who was notoriously unfaithful to him. Montlouis heard this last taunt
with compressed lips and a deep cloud upon his brow.
"Do not utter a word more, Count," said he; "I forbid you to do so."
He spoke so disrespectfully that Octave was about to strike him, but
Montlouis drew back and avoided the blow; but he was so intoxicated
with fury that this last insult roused him beyond all bounds.
"By what right do you speak thus," said he, "who have married another
man's mistress? It well becomes you to talk of woman's virtue, when
your wife is a --"
He had no time to finish his sentence, for Octave, levelling his gun,
shot him through the heart.
M. de Mussidan kept these facts from his wife because he really loved
her, and true love is capable of any extreme; and he felt that,
however strong the cause might be, he should never have the courage to
separate from Diana; that whatever she might do in the future, or had
already done in the past, he could not choose but forgive her.
Acquitted of all blame, thanks to Clinchain's and Ludovic's evidence--
for they had mutually agreed that the tragical occurrence should be
represented to have been the result of an accident--the conscience of
M. de Mussidan left him but little peace. The girl whom Montlouis had
loved had been driven from her home in disgrace, owing to having given
birth to a son. Octave sought her out, and, without giving any reason
for his generosity, told her that her son, whom she had named Paul,
after his father, Montlouis, should never come to want.
Shortly after this sad occurrence, M. de Mussidan and his wife quitted
Poitiers, for Diana had more than once determined that she would make
Paris her residence for the future. She had taken into her service a
woman who had been in the service of Marie de Puymandour, and through
her had discovered that, previous to her marriage with Norbert, Marie
had loved George de Croisenois; and she intended to use this knowledge
at some future date as a weapon with which to deal the Duke de
Champdoce a deadly blow.
A SCHEME OF VENGEANCE.
The marriage between Norbert and Mademoiselle de Puymandour was
entirely deficient in that brief, ephemeral light that shines over the
honeymoon. The icy wall that stood between them became each day
stronger and taller. There was no one to smooth away inequalities, no
one to exercise a kindly influence over two characters, both haughty
and determined. After his father's death, when Norbert announced his
intention of residing in Paris, M. de Puymandour highly approved of
this resolution, for he fancied that if he were to remain alone in the
country, he could to a certain extent take the place and position of
the late Duke, and, with the permission of his son-in-law, at once
take up his residence at Champdoce.
Almost as soon as the young Duchess arrived in Paris she realized the
fact that she was the most unfortunate woman in the world. As
Champdoce was almost like her own home, her eyes lighted on familiar
scenes; and if she went out, she was sure of being greeted by kindly
words and friendly features; but in Paris she only found solitude, for
everything there was strange and hostile. The late Duke, pinching and
parsimonious as he had been towards himself and his son, launched out
into the wildest extravagances when he imagined he was working for his
coming race, and the home which he had prepared for his great-
grandchildren was the incarnation of splendor and luxury.
Upon the arrival of Norbert and his wife, they could almost fancy that
they had only quitted their town house a few days before, so perfect
were all the arrangements. Had Norbert been left to act for himself,
he might have felt a little embarrassed, but his trusty servant Jean
aided him with his advice, and the establishment was kept on a footing
to do honor to the traditions of the house of Champdoce. Everything
can be procured in Paris for money, and Jean had filled the ante-rooms
with lackeys, the kitchens and offices with cooks and scullions, and
the stables with grooms, coachmen, and horses, while every description
of carriage stood in the place appointed for their reception.
But all this bustle and excitement did not seem in the eyes of the
young Duchess to impart life to the house. It appeared to her dead and
empty as a sepulchre. It seemed as if she were living beneath the
weight of some vague and indefinable terror, some hideous and hidden
spectre which might at any moment start from its hiding place and
drive her mad with the alarm it excited. She had not a soul in whom
she could confide. She had been forbidden by Norbert to renew her
acquaintance with her old Parisian friends, for Norbert did not
consider them of sufficiently good family, and in addition he had used
the pretext of the deep mourning they were in to put off receiving
visitors for a twelvemonth at least. She felt herself alone and
solitary, and, in this frame of mind, how was it possible for her not
to let her thoughts wander once again to George de Croisenois. Had her
father been willing, she might have been his wife now, and have been
wandering hand in hand in some sequestered spot beneath the clear blue
sky of Italy. /He/ had loved her, while Norbert----.
Norbert was leading one of those mad, headstrong lives which have but
two conclusions--ruin or suicide. His name had been put up for
election at a fashionable club by his uncle, the Chevalier de
Septraor, as soon as he arrived in Paris. He had been elected at once,
being looked on as a decided acquisition to the list of members. He
bore one of the oldest names to be found among the French nobility,
while his fortune-- gigantic as it was--had been magnified threefold
by the tongue of common report. He was received with open arms
everywhere, and lived in a perfect atmosphere of flattery. Not being
able to shine by means of cultivation or polish, he sought to gain a
position in his club by a certain roughness of demeanor and a cynical
mode of speech. He flung away his money in every direction, kept
racers, and was uniformly fortunate in his betting transactions. He
frequented the world of gallantry, and was constantly to be seen in
the company of women whose reputations were exceedingly equivocal. His
days were spent on horseback, or in the fencing room, and his nights
in drinking, gambling, and all kinds of debauchery. His wife scarcely
ever saw him, for when he returned home it was usually with the first
beams of day, either half intoxicated or savage from having lost large
sums at the gambling table. Jean, the old and trusty retainer of the
house of Champdoce, was deeply grieved, not so much at seeing his
master so rapidly pursuing the path to ruin as at the fact that he was
ever surrounded by dissolute and disreputable acquaintances.
"Think of your name," he would urge; "of the honor of your name."
"And what does that matter," sneered Norbert, "provided that I live a
jolly life, and shuffle out of the world rapidly?"
There was one fixed star in all the dark clouds that surrounded him,
which now seemed to blaze brightly, and this star was Diana de
Mussidan. Do what he would, it was impossible to efface her image from
his memory. Even amidst the fumes of wine and the debauched revelry of
the supper table he could see the form that he had once so
passionately loved standing out like a pillar of light, clear and
distinct against the darkness. He had led this demoralizing existence
for fully six months, when one day, as he was riding down the Avenue
des Champs Elysees, he saw a lady give him a friendly bow. She was
seated in a magnificent open carriage, wrapped in the richest and most
costly furs. Thinking that she might be one of the many actresses with
whom he was acquainted, Norbert turned his horse's head towards the
carriage; but as he got nearer he saw, to his extreme amazement and
almost terror, that it was Diana de Mussidan who was seated in it. He
did not turn back, however; and as the carriage had just drawn up, he
reined in his horse alongside of it. Diana was as much agitated as he
was, and for a moment neither of them spoke, but their eyes were
firmly fixed upon each other, and they sat pale and breathless, as if
each had some sad presentiment which fate was preparing for them both.
At last Norbert felt that he must break the silence, for the servants
were beginning to gaze upon them with eyes full of curiosity.
"What, madame, you here, in Paris?" said he with an effort.
She had drawn out a slender hand from the mass of furs in which she
was enveloped, and extended it to him, as she replied in a tone which
had a ring of tenderness beneath its commonplace tone,--
"Yes, we are established here, and I hope that we shall be as good
friends as we were once before. Farewell, until we meet again."
As if her words had been a signal, the coachman struck his horses
lightly with his whip, and the magnificent equipage rolled swiftly
away. Norbert had not accepted Diana's proffered hand, but presently
he realized the whole scene, and plunging his spurs into his horse
dashed furiously up the Avenue in the direction of the Arc de
"Ah!" said he, as a bitter pang of despair shot through his heart, "I
still love her, and can never care for any one else; but I will see
her again. She has not forgotten me. I could read it in her eyes, and
detect it all in the tones of her voice." Here a momentary gleam of
reason crossed his brain. "But will a woman like Diana ever forgive an
offence like mine? and when she seems most friendly the danger is the
Unfortunately he thrust aside this idea, and refused to listen to the
voice of reason. That evening he went down to his club with the
intention of asking a few questions regarding the Mussidans. He heard
enough to satisfy himself, and the next day he met Madame de Mussidan
in the Champs Elysees, and for many days afterwards in rapid
succession. Each day they exchanged a few words, and at last Diana,
with much simulated hesitation, promised to alight from her carriage
when next they met in the Bois, and talk to Norbert unhampered by the
presence of the domestics.
Madame de Mussidan had made the appointment for three o'clock, but
before two Norbert was on the spot, in a fever of expectation and
"Is it I," asked he of himself, "waiting once more for Diana, as I
have so often waited for her at Bevron?"
Ah, how many changes had taken place since then! He was now no longer
waiting for Diana de Laurebourg, but for the Countess de Mussidan,
another man's wife, while he also was a married man. It was no longer
the whim of a monomaniac that kept them apart, but the dictates of
law, honor, and the world.
"Why," said he, in a mad burst of passion, "why should we not set at
defiance all the cold social rules framed by an artificial state of
society; why should not the woman leave her husband and the man his
wife?" Norbert had consulted his watch times without number before the
appointed hour came. "Ah," sighed he, "suppose that she should not
come after all."
As he said these words a cab stopped, and the Countess de Mussidan
alighted from it. She came rapidly along towards him, crossing an open
space without heeding the irregularities of the ground, as that
diminished the distance which separated her from Norbert. He advanced
to meet her, and taking his arm, they plunged into the recesses of the
Bois. There had been heavy rain on the day previous, and the pathway
was wet and muddy, but Madame de Mussidan did not seem to notice this.
"Let us go on," said she, "until we are certain of not being seen from
the road. I have taken every precaution. My carriage and servants are
waiting for me in front of St. Philippe du Roule; but for all that I
may have been watched."
"You were not so timid in bygone days."
"Then I was my own mistress; and if I lost my reputation, the loss
affected me only; but on my wedding day I had a sacred trust confided
to me--the honor of the man who has given me his name, and that I must
guard with jealous care."
"Then you love me no longer."
She stopped suddenly, and overwhelming Norbert with one of those
glacial glances which she knew so well how to assume, answered in
"Your memory fails you; all that has remained to me of the past is the
rejection of a proposal conveyed in a certain letter that I wrote."
Norbert interrupted her by a piteous gesture of entreaty.
"Mercy!" said he. "You would pardon me if you knew all the horrors of
the punishment that I am enduring. I was mad, blind, besotted, nor did
I love you as I do at this moment."
A smile played round Diana's beautiful mouth, for Norbert had told her
nothing that she did not know before, but she wished to hear it from
his own lips.
"Alas!" murmured she; "I can only frame my reply with the fatal words,
'/Too late/!' "
He endeavored to seize her hand, but she drew it away with a rapid
"Do not use that name," said she; "you have no right to do so. Is it
not sufficient to have blighted the young girl's life? and yet you
seek to compromise the honor of the wife. You must forget me; do you
understand? It is to tell you this that I am here. The other day, when
I saw you again, I lost my self-command. My heart leapt up at the
sight of you, and, fool that I was, I permitted you to see this; but
base no hopes on my weakness. I said to you, Let us be friends. It was
a mere act of madness. We can never be friends, and had better,
therefore, treat each other as strangers. Do you forget that lying
tongues at Bevron accused me of being your mistress? Do you think that
this falsehood has not reached my husband's ears? One day, when your
name was mentioned in his presence, I saw a gleam of hatred and
jealousy in his eye. Great heavens! should he, on my return, suspect
that my hand had rested in yours, he would expel me from his house
like some guilty wretch! The door of our house must remain for ever
closed to you. I am miserable indeed. Be a man; and if your heart
still holds one atom of the love you once bore for me, prove it by
never seeking me again."
As she concluded she hurried away, leaving in Norbert's heart a more
deadly poison than the one she had endeavored to persuade the son to
administer to his father, the Duke de Champdoce. She knew each chord
that vibrated in his heart, and could play on it at will. She felt
sure that in a month he would again be her slave, and that she could
exercise over him a sway more despotic than she had yet done, and, in
addition to this, that he would assist her in executing a cruel scheme
of revenge, which she had long been plotting.
After having followed Diana about like her very shadow for several
days, Norbert at last ventured to approach her in the Champs Elysees.
She was angry, but not to such an extent that he feared to repeat his
offence. Then she wept, but her tears could not force him to avoid
her. At first her system of defence was very strong, then it gradually
grew weaker. She granted him another interview, and then two others
followed. But what were these meetings worth to him? They took place
in a church or a public gallery, in places where they could scarcely
exchange a grasp of the hand. At length she told him that she had
thought of a place which would render their interviews less perilous,
but that she hardly dared tell him where it was. He pressed her to
tell him, and, by degrees, she permitted herself to be persuaded. Her
idea was to become the friend of the Duchess of Champdoce.
Norbert now felt that she was more an angel than a woman, and it was
agreed that on the next day he himself would introduce her to his
FALSE FRIEND, OLD LOVER.
It was on a Wednesday morning that the Duke de Champdoce, instead of,
as usual, going to his own or one of his friends' clubs to breakfast,
took his seat at the table where his wife was partaking of her morning
meal. He was in excellent spirits, gay, and full of pleasant talk, a
mood in which his wife had never seen him since their ill-fated
marriage. The Duchess could not understand this sudden change in her
husband; it terrified and alarmed her, for she felt that it was the
forerunner of some serious event, which would change the current of
her life entirely.
Norbert waited until the domestics had completed their duty and
retired, and as soon as he was alone with his wife he took her hand
and kissed it with an air of gallantry.
"It has been a long time, my dear Marie, since I had resolved to open
my heart to you entirely, and now a full and open explanation has
become absolutely necessary."
"An explanation!" faltered Marie.
"Yes, certainly; but do not let the word alarm you. I fear that I must
have appeared in your eyes the most morose and disagreeable of
husbands. Permit me to explain. Since we came here, I have gone about
my own affairs, I have gone out early and returned extremely late, and
sometimes three days have elapsed without our even setting eyes on
The young Duchess listened to him like a woman who could not believe
her ears. Could this be her husband who was heaping reproaches upon
himself in this manner?
"I have made no complaint," stammered she.
"I know that, Marie; you have a noble and forgiving nature; but,
however, it is impossible, as a woman, that you should not have
"Indeed, but I have not done so."
"So much the better for me. On this I shall not have to find either
defence or excuse for my conduct; you must know, however, that you are
ever foremost in my thoughts, even when I am away from you."
He was evidently doing his best to put on an air of tenderness and
affection, but he failed; for though his words were kind, the tone of
his voice was neither tender nor sympathetic.
"I hope I know my duty," said the Duchess.
"Pray, Marie," broke in he, "do not let the word duty be uttered
between us. You know that you have been much alone, because it was
impossible for the friends of Mademoiselle de Puymandour to be those
of the Duchess de Champdoce!"
"Have I made any opposition to your orders?"
"Then, too, our mourning prevents us going out into the world for five
months longer at least."
"Have I asked to go out?"
"All the more reason that I should endeavor to make your home less
dull for you. I should like you to have with you some person in whose
society you could find pleasure and distraction. Not one of those
foolish girls who have no thought save for balls and dress, but a
sensible woman of the world, and, above all, one of your own age and
rank,--a woman, in short, of whom you could make a friend. But where
can such a one be found? It is a perilous quest to venture on, and
upon such a friend often depends the happiness and misery of a home.
"But," continued he, after a brief pause, "I think that I have
discovered the very one that will suit you. I met her at the house of
Madame d'Ailange, who spoke eloquently of her charms of mind and body,
and I hope to have the pleasure of presenting her to you to-day."
"Here, at our house?"
"Certainly; there is nothing odd in this. Besides, the lady is no
stranger to us; she comes from our own part of the country, and you
A flush came over his face, and he busied himself with the fire to
conceal it as he added,--
"You recollect Mademoiselle de Laurebourg?"
"Do you mean Diana de Laurebourg?"
"I saw very little of her, for my father and hers did not get on very
well together. The Marquis de Laurebourg looked on us as too
"Ah, well," interrupted he, "I trust that the daughter will make up
for the father's shortcomings. She married just after our wedding had
been celebrated, and her husband is the Count de Mussidan. She will
call on you to-day, and I have told your servants to say that you are
The silence that followed this speech lasted for nearly a couple of
minutes, and became exceedingly embarrassing, when suddenly the sound
of wheels was heard on the gravel of the courtyard, and in a moment
afterwards a servant came and announced that the Countess de Mussidan
was in the drawing-room. Norbert rose, and, taking his wife's arm, led
"Come, Marie, come," said he; "she has arrived."
Diana had reflected deeply before she had taken this extraordinarily
bold step. In paying a visit so contrary to all the usual rules of
etiquette, she exposed herself to the chance of receiving a severe
rebuff. The few seconds that elapsed while she was still alone in the
drawing-room seemed like so many centuries; but the door was opened,
and Norbert and his wife appeared. Then, with a charming smile, Madame
de Mussidan rose and bowed gracefully to the Duchess de Champdoce,
making a series of half-jesting apologies for her intrusion. She had
been utterly unable, she said, to resist the pleasure she should
experience in seeing an old country neighbor, the more so as they were
now separated by so short a distance. She had, therefore, disregarded
all the rules of etiquette so that they might have a cozy chat about
Poitiers, Bevron, Champdoce, and all the country where she had been
born, and which she so dearly loved.
The Duchess listened in silence to this torrent of words, and the
expression of her face showed how surprised she was at this unexpected
visit. A less perfectly self-possessed woman than Diana de Mussidan
might have felt abashed, but the slight annoyance was not to be
compared to the prospective advantages that she hoped to gain, and she
brought all the mettle of her talent and diplomacy into play.
Norbert was moving about the room, half ashamed of the ignoble part
that he was playing. As soon as he thought that the welcome between
the two ladies had been partially got over, and imagined that they
were conversing more amicably together, he slipped out of the room,
not knowing whether to be pleased or angry at the success of the
The trick was rather a more difficult one than Diana had, from
Norbert's account, anticipated, as she had thought that she would have
been received by the Duchess like some ministering angel sent down to
earth to console an unhappy captive. She had expected to find a
simple, guileless woman, who, upon her first visit, would throw her
arms round her visitor's neck and yield herself entirely to her
influence. Far, however, from being dismayed, Diana was rather pleased
at this unexpected difficulty, and so fully exerted all her powers of
fascination, that when she took her leave, she believed that she had
made a little progress.
On that very evening the Duchess remarked to her husband,--
"I think that I shall like Madame de Mussidan; she seems an excellent
kind of woman."
"Excellent is just the proper word," returned Norbert. "All Bevron was
in tears when she was married and had to leave, for she was a real
angel among the poor."
Norbert was intensely gratified by Diana's success; for was it not for
him that she had displayed all her skill, and was not this a proof
that she still cherished a passion for him?
He was not, however, quite so much pleased when he met Madame de
Mussidan the next day in the Champs Elysees. She looked sad and
"What has gone wrong?" asked he.
"I am very angry with myself for having listened to the voice of my
own heart and to your entreaties," answered she, "and I think that
both of us have committed a grave error."
"Indeed, and what have we done?"
"Norbert, your wife suspects something."
"Impossible! Why, she was praising you after you had left."
"If that is the case, then she is indeed a much more clever woman than
I had imagined, for she knows how to conceal her suspicions until she
is in a position to prove them."
Diana spoke with such a serious air of conviction, that Norbert became
"What shall we do?" asked he.
"The best thing would be to give up meeting each other, I think."
"Never; I tell you, never!"
"Let me reflect; in the meantime be prudent; for both our sakes, be
To further his ends, Norbert entirely changed his mode of life. He
gave up going to his clubs, refused invitations to fast suppers, and
no longer spent his nights in gambling and drinking. He drove out with
his wife, and frequently spent his evenings with her, and at the club
began to be looked on as quite a model husband. This great change,
however, was not effected without many a severe inward struggle. He
felt deeply humiliated at the life of deception that he was forced to
lead, but Diana's hand, apparently so slight and frail, held him with
a grip of steel.
"We must live in this way," said she, in answer to his expostulations,
"first, because it must be so; and, secondly, because it is my will.
On our present mode of conduct depends all our future safety, and I
wish the Duchess to believe that with me happiness and content must
have come to her fireside."
Norbert could not gainsay this very reasonable proposition on the part
of Madame de Mussidan, for he was more in love than ever, and the
terrible fear that if he went in any way contrary to her wishes that
she would refuse to see him any more, stayed the words of objection
that rose to his lips.
After hesitating for a little longer, the Duchess made up her mind to
accept the offer of friendship which Diana had so ingenuously offered
to her, and finished by giving herself up to the bitterest enemy that
she had in the world. By degrees she had no secrets from her new
friend, and one day, after a long and confidential conversation, she
acknowledged to Diana the whole secret of the early love of her
girlish days, the memory of which had never faded from the inmost
recesses of her heart, and was rash enough to mention George de
Croisenois by name. Madame de Mussidan was overjoyed at what she
considered so signal a victory.
"Now I have her," thought she, "and vengeance is within my grasp."
Marie and Diana were now like two sisters, and were almost constantly
together; but this intimacy had not given to Norbert the facile means
of meeting Diana which he had so ardently hoped for. Though Madame de
Mussidan visited his house nearly every day, he absolutely saw less of
her than he had done before, and sometimes weeks elapsed without his
catching a glimpse of her face. She played her game with such
consummate skill, that Marie was always placed as a barrier between
Norbert and herself, as in the farce, when the lover wishes to embrace
his mistress, he finds the wrinkled visage of the duenna offered to
his lips. Sometimes he grew angry, but Diana always had some excellent
reason with which to close his mouth. Sometimes she held up his
pretensions to ridicule, and at others assumed a haughty air, which
always quelled incipient rebellion upon his part.
"What did you expect of me?" she would say, "and of what base act did
you do me the honor to consider me capable?"
He was treated exactly like a child, or more cruel still, like a
person deficient in intellect, and this he was thoroughly aware of. He
could not meet Madame de Mussidan as he had formerly done, for now in
the Bois, at Longchamps, or at any place of public amusement she was
invariably surrounded by a band of fashionable admirers, among whom
George de Croisenois was always to be found. Norbert disliked all
these men, but he had a special antipathy to George de Croisenois,
whom he regarded as a supercilious fool; but in this opinion he was
entirely wrong, for the Marquis de Croisenois was looked upon as one
of the most talented and witty men in Parisian society, and in this
case the opinion of the world was a well-founded one. Many men envied
him, but he had no enemies, and his honest and straightforward conduct
was beyond all doubt. He had the noble instincts of a knight of the
days of chivalry.
"Pray," asked Norbert, "what is it that you can see in this sneering
dandy who is always hanging about you?"
But Diana, with a meaning smile, always made the same reply,--
"You ask too much; but some time you will learn all."
Every day she contrived, when with the Duchess, to turn the
conversation skilfully upon George de Croisenois, and she had in a
manner accustomed Marie to look certain possibilities straight in the
face, from the very idea of which she would a few months back have
recoiled with horror. This point once gained, Madame de Mussidan
believed that the moment had arrived to bring the former lovers
together again, and fancied that one sudden and unexpected encounter
would advance matters much more quickly than all her half-veiled
insinuations. One day, therefore, when the Duchess had called on her
friend, on entering the drawing-room, she found it only tenanted by
George de Croisenois. An exclamation of astonishment fell from the
lips of both as their eyes met; the cheek of each grew pale. The
Duchess, overcome by her feelings, sank half-fainting into a chair
near the door.
"Ah," murmured he, scarcely knowing the meaning of the words he
uttered, "I had every confidence in you, and you have forgotten me."
"You do not believe the words you have just spoken," returned the
Duchess haughtily; "but," she added in softer accents, "what could I
do? I may have been weak in obeying my father, but for all that I have
never forgotten the past."
Madame de Mussidan, who had stationed herself behind the closed door,
caught every word, and a gleam of diabolical triumph flashed from her
eyes. She felt sure that an interview which began in this manner would
be certain to be repeated, and she was not in error. She soon saw that
by some tacit understanding the Duchess and George contrived to meet
constantly at her house, and this she carefully abstained from
noticing. Things were working exactly as she desired and she waited,
for she could well afford to do so, knowing that the impending crash
could not long be delayed.
A STAB IN THE DARK.
September had now arrived; and though the weather was very bad, the
Duke de Champdoce, accompanied by his faithful old servant, Jean, left
Paris on a visit to his training stables. Having had a serious
difference with Diana, he had made up his mind to try whether a long
absence on his part would not have the effect of reducing her to
submission, and at the same time remembering the proverb, that
"absence makes the heart grow fonder."
He had already been away two whole days, and was growing extremely
anxious at not having heard from Madame de Mussidan, when one evening,
as he was returning from a late inspection of his stud, he was
informed that there was a man waiting to see him. The man was a poor
old fellow belonging to the place, who eked out a wretched subsistence
by begging, and executing occasional commissions.
"Do you want me?" asked the Duke.
With a sly look, the man drew from his pocket a letter.
"This is for you," muttered he.
"All right; give it to me, then."
"I was told to give it to you only in private."
"Never mind that; hand it over."
"Well, if I must, I must."
Norbert's sole thought was that this letter must have come from Diana,
and throwing the man a coin, hurried to a spot where it was light
enough to read the missive. He did not, however, recognize Diana's
firm, bold hand on the envelope.
"Who the devil can this be from?" thought Norbert, as he tore open the
outer covering. The paper within was soiled and greasy, and the
handwriting was of the vilest description, it was full of bad
spelling, and ran thus:--
"I hardly dare tell you the truth, and yet my conscience will give
me no relief until I do so. I can no longer bear to see a
gentleman such as you are deceived by a woman who has no heart or
honorable feeling. Your wife is unfaithful to you, and will soon
make you a laughing stock to all. You may trust to this being
true, for I am a respectable woman, and you can easily find out if
I am lying to you. Hide yourself this evening, so that you may
command a view of the side-door in the wall of your garden, and
between half-past ten and eleven you will see your wife's lover
enter. It is a long time since he has been furnished with a key.
The hour for the meeting has been judiciously fixed, for all the
servants will be out; but I implore you not to be violent, for I
would not do your wife any harm, but I feel that you ought to be
Norbert ran through the contents of this infamous anonymous letter in
an instant. The blood surged madly through his brain, and he uttered a
howl of fury. His servants ran in to see what was the matter.
"Where is the fellow who brought this letter?" said he. "Run after him
and bring him back to me."
In a few minutes the sturdy grooms made their appearance, pushing in
the messenger, who seemed over-powered with tears.
"I am not a thief," exclaimed he. "It was given to me, but I will give
He was alluding to the louis given to him by Norbert, for the
largeness of the sum made him think that the donor had made a mistake.
"Keep the money," said the Duke; "I meant it for you; but tell me who
gave this letter to you."
"I can't tell you," answered the man. "If I ever saw him before, may
my next glass of wine choke me. He got out of a cab just as I was
passing near the bridge, and calling to me, said, 'Look at this
letter; at half-past seven take it to the Duke de Champdoce, who lives
by his stables in the road to the Forest. Do you know the place?'
'Yes,' I says, and then he slips the letter and a five-franc piece
into my hand, got back into the cab, and off he went."
"What was the man like?" asked he.
"Well, I can hardly say. He wasn't young or old, or short or tall. I
recollect he had a gold watch-chain on, but that was about all I
"Very well; you can be off."
At this moment Norbert's anger was turned against the writer of the
letter only, for he did not place the smallest credence in the
accusations against his wife. If he did not love her, he at any rate
respected her. "My wife," said he to himself, "is an honorable and
virtuous woman, and it is some discharged menial who has taken this
cowardly mode of revenge." A closer inspection of the letter seemed to
show him that the faults in caligraphy were intentional. The
concluding portion of the letter excited his attention, and, calling
Jean, he asked him if it was true that all the servants would be
absent from the house to-day.
"There will be none there this evening; not until late at night,"
answered the old man.
"And why, pray?"
"Have you forgotten, your Grace, that the first coachman is going to
be married, and the Duchess was good enough to say that all might go
to the wedding dinner and ball, as long as some one remained at the
After the first outburst, Norbert affected an air of calmness, and
laughed at the idea of having permitted himself to be disturbed for so
trivial a cause. But this was mere pretence, for doubt and suspicion
had entered his soul, and no power on earth could expel them. "Why
should not my wife be unfaithful to me?" thought Norbert. "I give her
credit for being honorable and right-minded, but then all deceived
husbands have the same idea. Why should I not take advantage of this
information, and judge for myself? But no. I will not stoop to such an
act of baseness. I should be as infamous as the writer of this letter
if I was to play the spy, as she recommends me to do." He glanced
round, and perceived that his servants were looking at him with
"Go to your work," said he. "Extinguish the lights, and see that all
the doors and windows are carefully closed."
He had made up his mind now, and taking out his watch, saw that it was
just eight o'clock. "I have time to reach Paris," muttered he, "by the
appointed time." Then he called Jean to him again. There was no need
to conceal anything from this trusty adherent of the house of
Champdoce. "I must start for Paris," said the Duke, "without an
"On account of that letter?" asked the old man with an expression of
the deepest sorrow upon his features.
"Yes, for that reason only."
"Some one has been making false charges against the Duchess."
"How do you know that?"
"It was easy enough to guess."
"Have the carriage got ready, and tell the coachman to wait for me in
front of the club. I myself will go on foot."
"You must not do that," answered Jean gravely. "The servants may have
conceived the same suspicions as I have. You ought to creep away
without any one being a bit the wiser. The other domestics need not
even suppose that you have left the house. I can get you a horse out
of the little stables without any one being the wiser. I will wait for
you on the other side of the bridge."
"Good; but remember that I have not a moment to lose."
Jean left the room, and as he reached the passage Norbert heard him
say to one of the servants, "Put some cold supper on the table; the
Duke says that he is starving."
Norbert went into his bedroom, put on a great coat and a pair of high
boots, and slipped into his pocket a revolver, the charges of which he
had examined with the greatest care. The night was exceedingly dark, a
fine, icy rain was falling, and the roads were very heavy. Norbert
found Jean with the horse at the appointed spot, and as he leaped into
the saddle the Duke exclaimed, "Not a soul saw me leave the house."
"Nor I either," returned the attached domestic. "I shall go back and
act as if you were at supper. At three in the morning I will be in the
wine-shop on the left-hand side of the road. When you return, give a
gentle tap on the window-pane with the handle of your whip." Norbert
sprang into the saddle, and sped away through the darkness like a
phantom of the night. Jean had made an excellent choice in the horse
he had brought for his master's use, and the animal made its way
rapidly through the mud and rain; but Norbert by this time was half
mad with excitement, and spurred him madly on. As he neared home a new
idea crossed his brain. Suppose it was a practical joke on the part of
some of the members of the club? In that case, they would doubtless be
watching for his arrival, and, after talking to him on indifferent
subjects, would, when he betrayed any symptoms of impatience,
overwhelm him with ridicule. The fear of this made him cautious. What
should he do with the horse he was riding? The wine-shops were open,
and perhaps he might pick up some man there who would take charge of
it for him. As he was debating this point, his eyes fell upon a
soldier, probably on his way to barracks.
"My man," asked the Duke, "would you like to earn twenty francs?"
"I should think so, if it is nothing contrary to the rules and
regulations of the army."
"It is only to take my horse and walk him up and down while I pay a
visit close by."
"I can stay out of the barracks a couple of hours longer, but no
more," returned the soldier.
Norbert told the soldier where he was to wait for him, and then went
on rapidly to his own house, and reached the side street along which
ran the garden belonging to his magnificent residence. On the opposite
side of the street the houses all had porticoes, and Norbert took up
his position in one of these, and peered out carefully. He had studied
the whole street, which was not a long one, from beginning to end, and
was convinced that he was the only person in it. He made up his mind
that he would wait until midnight; and if by that time no one
appeared, he would feel confident that the Duchess was innocent, and
return without any one but Jean having known of his expedition. From
his position he could see that three windows on the second floor of
his house were lighted up, and those windows were in his wife's
sleeping apartment. "She is the last woman in the world to permit a
lover to visit her," thought he. "No, no; the whole thing is a hoax."
He began to think of the way in which he had treated his wife. Had he
nothing to reproach himself with? Ten days after their marriage he had
deserted her entirely; and if during the last few weeks he had paid
her any attention, it was because he was acting in obedience to the
whims of another woman. Suppose a lover was with her now, what right
had he to interfere? The law gave him leave, but what did his
conscience say? He leaned against the chill stone until he almost
became as cold as it was. It seemed to him at that moment that life
and hope were rapidly drifting away from him. He had lost all count of
how long he had been on guard. He pulled out his watch, but it was too
dark to distinguish the hands or the figures on the dial-plate. A
neighboring clock struck the half-hour, but this gave him no clue as
to the time. He had almost made up his mind to leave, when he heard
the sound of a quick step coming down the street. It was the light,
quick step of a sportsman,--of a man more accustomed to the woods and
fields than the pavement and asphalt of Paris. Then a shadow fell upon
the opposite wall, and almost immediately disappeared. Then Norbert
knew that the door had opened and closed, and that the man had entered
the garden. There could be no doubt upon this point, and yet the Duke
would have given worlds to be able to disbelieve the evidence of his
senses. It might be a burglar, but burglars seldom work alone; or it
might be a visitor to one of the servants, but all the servants were
absent. He again raised his eyes to the windows of his wife's room.
All of a sudden the light grew brighter; either the lamp had been
turned up, or fresh candles lighted. Yes, it was a candle, for he saw
it borne across the room in the direction of the great staircase, and
now he saw that the anonymous letter had spoken the truth, and that he
was on the brink of a discovery. A lover had entered the garden, and
the lighted candle was a signal to him. Norbert shuddered; the blood
seemed to course through his veins like streams of molten fire, and
the misty atmosphere that surrounded him appeared to stifle him. He
ran across the street, forced the lock, and rushed wildly into the
HUSBAND AND LOVER.
The writer of the anonymous communication had only known the secret
too well, for the Duchess de Champdoce was awaiting a visit that
evening from George de Croisenois; this was, however, the first time.
Step by step she had yielded, and at length had fallen into the snare
laid for her by the treacherous woman whom she believed to be her
truest friend. The evening before this eventful night she had been
alone in Madame de Mussidan's drawing-room with George de Croisenois.
She had been impressed by his ardent passion, and had listened with
pleasure to his loving entreaties.
"I yield," said she. "Come to-morrow night, at half-past ten, to the
little door in the garden wall; it will only be kept closed by a stone
being placed against it inside; push it, and it will open; and when
you have entered the garden, acquaint me with your presence by
clapping yours hands gently once or twice."
Diana had, from a secure hiding-place, overheard these words, and
feeling certain that the Duchess would repent her rash promise, she
kept close to her side until George's departure, to give her no chance
of retracting her promise. The next day she was constantly with her
victim, and made an excuse for dining with her, so as not to quit her
until the hour for the meeting had almost arrived.
It was not until she was left alone that the Duchess saw the full
extent of her folly and rashness. She was terrified at the promise
that she had given in a weak moment, and would have given worlds had
she been able to retract.
There was yet, however, one means of safety left her--she could hurry
downstairs and secure the garden gate. She started to her feet,
determined to execute her project; but she was too late for the
appointed signal was heard through the chill gloom of the night.
Unhappy woman! The light sound of George de Croisenois' palms striking
one upon the other resounded in her ears like the dismal tolling of
the funereal bell. She stooped to light a candle at the fire, but her
hand trembled so that she could scarcely effect her object. She felt
sure that George was still in the garden, though she had made no
answer to his signal. She had never thought that he would have had the
audacity to open a door that led into the house from the garden, but
this is what he had done. In the most innocent manner imaginable, and
so that her listener in no way suspected the special reason that she
had for making this communication, Diana de Mussidan had informed
George de Croisenois that upon this night all the domestics of the
Champdoce household would be attending the coachman's wedding, and
that consequently the mansion would be deserted. George knew also that
the Duke was away at his training establishment, and he therefore
opened the door, and walked boldly up the main staircase, so that when
the Duchess, with the lighted candle in her hand, came to the top
steps she found herself face to face with George de Croisenois, pallid
with emotion and quivering with excitement.
At the sight of the man she loved she started backwards with a low cry
of anguish and despair.
"Fly!" she said "fly, or we are lost!"
He did not, however, seem to hear her, and the Duchess recoiled
slowly, step by step, through the open door of her chamber, across the
carpeted floor, until she reached the opposite wall of her room, and
could go no farther.
George followed her, and pushed to the door of the room as he entered
it. This brief delay, however, had sufficed to restore Marie to the
full possession of her senses. "If I permit him to speak," thought
she,--"if he once suspects that my love for him is still as strong as
ever, I am lost."
Then she said aloud,--
"You must leave this house, and that instantly. I was mad when I said
what I did yesterday. You are too noble and too generous not to listen
to me when I tell you that the moment of infatuation is over, and that
all my reason has returned to me, and my openness will convince you of
the truth of what I say--George de Croisenois, I love you."
The young man uttered an exclamation of delight upon hearing this
"Yes," continued Marie, "I would give half the years of my remaining
life to be your wife. Yes, George, I love you; but the voice of duty
speaks louder than the whispers of the heart. I may die of grief, but
there will be no stain upon my marriage robe, no remorse eating out my
But the Marquis would not consent to this immediate dismissal, and
appeared to be about to speak.
"Go!" said the Duchess, with an air of command. "Leave me at once!"
Then, as he made no effort to obey her, she went on, "If you really
love me, let my honor be as dear to you as your own, and never try to
see me again. The peril we are now in shows how necessary this last
determination of mine is. I am the Duchess de Champdoce, and I will
keep the name that has been intrusted to me pure and unsullied, nor
will I stoop to treachery or deception."
"Why do you use the word deception?" asked he. "I do, it is true,
despise the woman who smiles upon the husband she is betraying, but I
respect and honor the woman who risks all to follow the fortunes of
the man she loves. Lay aside, Marie, name, title, fortune, and fly
"I love you too much, George," answered she gently, "to ruin your
future, for the day would surely come when you would regret all your
self-denial, for a woman weighed down with a sense of her dishonor is
a heavy burden for a man to bear."
George de Croisenois did not understand her thoroughly.
"You do not trust me," said he. "You would be dishonored. Shall I not
share a portion of the world's censure? And, if you wish me, I will be
a dishonored man also. To-night I will cheat at play at the club, be
detected, and leave the room an outcast from the society of all
honorable men for the future. Fly with me to some distant land, and we
will live happily under whatever name you may choose."
"I must not listen to you," cried she wildly. "It is impossible now."
"Impossible!--and why? Tell me, I entreat you."
"Ah, George," sobbed she, "if you only knew----"
He placed his arm around her waist, and was about to press his lips on
that fair brow, when all at once he felt Marie shiver in his clasp,
and, raising one of her arms, point towards the door, which had opened
silently during their conversation, and upon the threshold of which
stood Norbert de Champdoce, gloomy and threatening.
The Marquis saw in an instant the terrible position in which his
insensate folly had placed the woman he loved.
"Do not come any nearer," said he, addressing Norbert; "remain where
A bitter laugh from the Duke made him realize the folly of his
command. He supported the Duchess to a couch, and seated her upon it.
She recovered consciousness almost immediately, and, as she opened her
eyes, George read in them the most perfect forgiveness for the man who
had ruined her life and hopes.
This look, and the fond assurance conveyed in it, restored all
George's coolness and self-possession, and he turned towards Norbert.
Back to Full Books